ECNEC approves distribution of 100,000 laptops among youth

ECNEC approves distribution of 100,000 laptops among youth

ECNEC approves distribution of 100,000 laptops among youth
ISLAMABAD: The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) on Tuesday approved 10 projects worth Rs 218.554 billion for irrigation, water, power, infrastructure and education sectors in addition to a scheme for distribution of 100,000 laptops among the youth.
The ECNEC meeting was held at the Prime Minister’s Office with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in the chair.
It approved purchase of 100,000 laptops under the Prime Minister’s National Programme for provision of laptops to all PhDs/masters as well as graduate and diploma in engineering students from polytechnic to High Education Commission (HEC) at a cost of Rs 4 billion. ECNEC also decided that no laptop shall be issued to those students who have availed it in the past under such an initiative nor shall they be eligible for laptops in future initiatives launched by federal and provincial governments.
ECNEC also directed HEC that bids for the laptops should include a condition that the bidders shall establish an assembly plant leading to manufacturing of laptops. ECNEC also approved a project sponsored by the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan titled “Basic Education for ALL” to open schools in the districts of AJ&K at a cost of Rs 1224.093 million.
ECNEC also approved a hydropower project Naltar-V at a total revised cost of Rs 3843.753 million. The objective of the construction of the project is to meet the power requirements of Gilgit Town.
ECNEC also gave principle approval to Sharmai (150MW) Hydropower Project located in Upper Dir, Shogo-Sen (132MW) Hydropower Project and Shushgai-Zhendoli (144MW) Hydel Project in Chitral at a cost of Rs 91682.664 million. These projects proposed by the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were approved subject to condition that their financing requirement were fulfilled by the provincial government according to the constitution and that the information is shared with ECNEC once the projects are firmed up and achieve financial close.
ECNEC also approved the refurbishment and up gradation of generating limits of Mangla Power Station for enhancing its capacity from 1,000MW to 1310MW at a proposed total cost of Rs 52224.307 million by the Ministry of Water and Power.

Schools reopen after winter vacation in twin cities – Islamabad- Rawalpindi

Schools reopen after winter vacation in twin cities

ISLAMABAD: Educational institutions in the twin cities reopened on Wednesday amid a severe cold wave after the winter vacation.
Students and teachers returned to the schools and colleges on the first day of the new year, through low attendance was witnessed due to severity of the weather.
It has became a routine matter for the students not to attend their institutes on the opening day, assuming that there will be no classes and most of the students will be absent. This forced the administration of educational institutes to resume activities at a low pace.
The Punjab Education Department had announced winter vacation from December 24 to December 31, while the educational institutions run by the Federal Directorate of Education remained closed from December 25 to December 31.
Meanwhile, teachers expressed concern over inadequate heating arrangements in classrooms.
Aslam, a parent, said, “I have not sent my children to the school today due to persisting cold weather conditions.”
He said that classes were not held usually on the first day after reopening of institutes due to less strength.
Hina Arif, a mother, said, “It is difficult to wake up early in the morning during chilly weather conditions and make breakfast, especially when the gas pressure is low. So I preferred not sending my children to the school today.”
She said that students usually avoided attending classes during the first few days after a vacation.

‘NUST Alumni Homecoming’ unites 1,500 from across globe

‘NUST Alumni Homecoming’ unites 1,500 from across globe

ISLAMABAD: The first central NUST Alumni Homecoming was held at is H12 campus in Islamabad on December 28. The festive evening was organised by the NUST Alumni Association (NAA) in collaboration with Mobilink. More than 1,500 alumni from around the country and from abroad gathered to celebrate the homecoming to their alma mater and to rejoice in the delightful companionships they had acquired in their university life. The event commenced with a meet-and-greet session, which was an opportunity for interaction among students, alumni and faculty members. This was followed by the launch of the official ceremony in which NUST Alumni Association President Ammar Khan spoke about the creation, purpose and achievements of NAA. The founding rector of NUST, Lt General (r) Syed Shujaat Hussain, gave a reflective speech about the modest values that preserve the essence of an honest living. “Stay positive to life” was his message to the alumni at various stages of their lives. Finally, NUST Rector Engineer Muhammad Asghar commended the organisations, including the Higher Education Commission (HEC), the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) and the armed forces for their continued support to NUST. Addressing the gathering, he lauded how NUST had evolved from an institute excelling in sciences and technology to a comprehensive university, which prides in diversity of its academic profile and students, and had been consistently among the top 500 universities of the world for the last seven years. The perfect end to a memorable night followed the formal dinner, as the Pakistani rock band Noori took the stage, leaving the crowd with an evening to remember.

Free education for out-of-school children – Punjab Education Foundation (PEF)

Free education for out-of-school children - Punjab Education Foundation (PEF)

LAHORE: The Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) Chairman Raja Anwar has said that PEF would arrange free school education for mostly out-of-school children in the province during the next six years.
He was talking to a seven member delegation comprising heads of various PEF partner schools at his residence on Sunday.
He said the chief minister’s education sector roadmap programme was aimed at eradicating illiteracy and alleviating poverty by giving free quality education to all such children who could not make it to schools due to different reasons. PEF chairman further said that the foundation should arrange child-friendly schooling for such out-of-school children during the period 2013-19, adding that a comprehensive educational plan had already been devised for it.
Currently, PEF has arranged free school education of 1.4 million poor and deserving children through a network of about four thousand partner schools in 36 districts, he added.
He maintained that PEF model of public private partnership was the most useful intervention, which is also in accordance with the socio-cultural norms of the province. This model has encouraged and promoted the low-cost private schools in a number of ways including teachers training and improving management standards of such schools, he added.
On the occasion, the delegation thanked the Punjab government for taking steps to improve the standard of private sector schools.

752 students awarded degrees – University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS)

752 students awarded degrees - University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS)

LAHORE: The 5th convocation of the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS) was held on Monday. Chancellor/Governor Punjab Muhammad Sarwar presided over the convocation. Degrees were conferred upon 752 graduates, of which 245 DVM, 176 BS (Hons), 89 Pharm-D, eight MBA, four MSc, 200 MPhil and 30 PhDs whereas 33 position winning graduates were awarded medals on the occasion. Addressing the convocation, Governor Punjab Chuadhry Sarwar advised the graduating students to value the time, be punctual and grow with confidence to face the challenges of practical life successfully. He said that sustainable growth depended on quality education, skills, research and training.

Old age neither a disease nor a problem

Old age neither a disease nor a problem

LAHORE: Old age is neither a disease nor a problem, and older people are an asset to the community but they face number of issues which make their life difficult, this was revealed at the launch of Global Age Watch Index report, at a seminar organised by Jaag Welfare Movement in collaboration with Punjab Social Welfare Department.
“We all are born equal and this does not change as we grow older. Older women and men have the same right as everyone else.
Despite the fact, older women and men around the world continue to be discriminated against because of their age at a family, community and institutional level,” participants of the seminar were told.
“Our world is ageing and experiencing a demographic shift, the number of people over the age of 60 will be more than children under 14 by 2050.”
There were 11.6 million people over the age of 60 in Pakistan in 2012 and this figure will rise to 43.3 million by 2050 making 15.8% of the total population of the country, according to the report. HelpAge International launched Global Age Watch index globally on October 1. The index is first ever measure of quality of life and well being of older people around the world. The index is based on four domains, including income security, health status, employment and education and enabling environment. Based on four domains and 13 indicators, the index ranks the countries for older people needs, issues and rights. The index covers 89% of world’s older population and ranks 91 countries, including Pakistan.
Pakistan ranks at 89th position, which is significantly low than its regional south Asian neighbours, Sri Lanka (36), India (73) and Nepal (77). This shows lack of income security, low pension coverage, inadequate health, education and employment opportunities for older men and women in Pakistan. The most important aspect in this regard is important to mention here that there is no law or legislation for protection of rights of older people living in Pakistan.
The government of Punjab in this regard is showing serious concerns and a draft senior citizen welfare bill has been prepared; the development process was completed through different consultation workshops. The bill has been submitted to Cabinet Division by Social Welfare Department.
Punjab Population Welfare and Women Development Minister Zakia Shahnawaz, who was chief guest at the event, informed that soon the bill be presented in the parliament as the Punjab chief minister is paying special attention to this bill.
“Older people’s social protection issue is at my heart and I am honoured to be the part of this movement of senior citizen bill,” said parliamentary secretary Ilyas Ansari, who also presided over the event.
Sadia Sohial Rana, an MPA from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), said the PTI is with the government on this important issue and will fully support the bill in parliament.
Other MPA speakers, including Rana Muhammad Arshad, Salma Butt, Farzana Butt, Kiran Daar, Namira Andleeb, Shahjahan and Asadullah, mentioned that older people are contributors to development and an asset of society.
It was stressed that this bill should be presented and approved in the provincial assembly.
Abdul Rub Farooqi, executive director of Jaag Welfare Movement, requested Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to pay attention to this bill so that older men and women could live active, healthy, secure and dignified life.

AIOU to launch MSc degree programmes in remote regions

AIOU to launch MSc degree programmes in remote regions

ISLAMABAD: Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) would launch M.Sc degree programme in country’s remote and backward regions, as a part of its ongoing efforts to provide equal accessibility to quality education to all segments of society.
This programme would be introduced in physics, chemistry, mass communication, statistics and some others disciplines from the next academic year.
The AIOU has already allocated Rs 50 million for setting up well-equipped laboratories in such regions to facilitate the students and it has already made available computer-based and E-learning education in the remote regions like Umerkot and Mitthi (Sindh).
This was stated by the Vice-Chancellor Prof. Dr Nazir Ahmad Sangi while inaugurating the AIOU’s campus at Mitthi on Monday.
Dr Mahesh Malani, MPA announced donation of 20-acre land, enabling the university to set-up a technical and vocational Institute in the region.
The campus would facilitate thousands of students of AIOU who live around the region. The campus is a part of the AIOU’s strategy to promote job-oriented education and to ensure access to equal quality education across the country, Sangi said.
The AIOU regional campuses were increased from 36 to 42 during the last three years. The number of campuses will be further increased to 72 by 2017.
A model computer-based campus has also been established at Umer Kot (Sindh), he said adding the video-conferencing facility also being provided at these campuses so that the students could get the quality education without discrimination.
New regional offices are being established across the country particularly where the literacy rate is less than 30 percent. This is also aimed at providing academic services to its students at their nearest places.
Dr Sangi said that the AIOU was considering a plan to launch engineering courses to address the socio-economic problems of the country, like shortage of energy and water.
The university, he said, had already decided that there will be no increase in academic fee at least for a year, so that the benefit of education could reach to all sections of society.
The university has allocated Rs 23 million annual fund to accommodate poor and needy students in their fee under its `Earn-to-Learn’ scheme.
The unprecedented growth in number of students enrolled on the University’s programmes and courses is a reflection of its popularity among masses and also an indication of quality of the programs it offers, he asserted.
The vice-chancellor said that AIOU had already made big strides in catering the educational needs for the masses.
“Its yearly enrolment exceeds 1.4 million which proves that it enjoys trust in every nook and corner of the country as an institution providing quality education.”
AIOU, he said will continue to play its leading role in providing quality and affordable education to the people at their door-steps.

President stresses investment in health, education- Highlights critical role of medical, engineering, IT and social sciences education

President stresses investment in health, education-  Highlights critical role of medical, engineering, IT and social sciences education

President stresses investnt in health, education

ISLAMABAD: While highlighting the need to invest in the most critical areas of health and education, President Mamnoon Hussain said on Monday that it was imperative to make the country economically prosperous.
Addressing the first convocation of the Shifa Tameer-e-Millat University at the Pak-China Friendship Centre, the president said that Pakistan was fortunate that a large and overwhelming segment of its population comprises of youth. “If trained and educated properly with relevant professional skills and values, we can use this huge potential to transform this country into a flourishing economy.” In this regard the president said the universities and colleges, especially the higher education and professional institutions, have a critical role to play in imparting quality education, especially in the disciplines like medical, allied health sciences, engineering, IT, management and social sciences.
“We need to focus on greater collaboration between the universities and the industry to promote research, job creation and preparing the youth meet the requirements of the market.” He said besides imparting quality education to achieve professional excellence, the youth must be taught religious and cultural values and ethos in their true perspective, which are essential pillars of a balanced society. “We must train our youth in such a way that they could face every challenge with strength of mind and character,” Mamnoon said.
The president expressed the confidence that Shifa Tameer-e-Millat University shall continue following a model for such a system of education which provides a blend of quality and values. He said the medical profession involves a lifelong process of learning. Despite the fact that their alma mater has laid a sound and solid foundation, President Mamnoon said it was ultimately the struggle and personal interest of the graduates towards learning present-day complexities in medicine and treatment procedures that would make them a trustworthy professionals in their relevant fields.
“I am confident that you would always uphold the good practices and ethics of your noble profession,” the president said and added “success shall always come your way if you are consistent with your pursuits and committed to your cause”. He also advised them to remember and follow the oath which they have taken for future professional career. The event was attended by the parents, faculty, students, Shifa Tameer-e-Millat University Chancellor Prof Dr Muhammad Ata, Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Kamran Jahangir and Shifa International Hospital Chief Executive Officer Dr Manzoorul Haq Qazi.
He also appreciated the valuable contribution of late Dr Zaheer Ahmad and his team for establishing a world-class hospital in the name of Shifa International Hospital Islamabad, Tameer-e-Millat Foundation and Shifa Tameer-e-Millat University. The president congratulated the 11th graduating class of Shifa College of Medicine and the 7th graduating class of Shifa College of Nursing, and particularly those who earned gold and silver medals and other distinctions on their outstanding academic achievements.
President Mamnoon also stressed the need for promoting girls education, saying women have to play a pivotal role in guiding children to become useful citizens of society. He urged parents to pay special attention to the education of girls because an educated mother can ensure an educated generation.

140 Pak students to fly to US for fellowship programmes

140 Pak students to fly to US for fellowship programmes

ISLAMABAD: As many as 140 students from different universities of the country will leave for the US within a few days for a semester of study at the colleges and universities there under the Global UGRAD fellowship programme, a US Department of State initiative.
The students, sixty per cent of whom are girls, will pursue degrees in a wide variety of disciplines, including humanities, social science, engineering, science, law, art and design, economics, business administration at over 50 different colleges and universities located throughout the United States. The US Embassy Minister Counsellor for Public Affairs Peter Brennan in a statement said: “We are proud that in Pakistan we run the single largest array of exchanges of any US Embassy in the world – sending over 1,200 Pakistanis to the United States every year. This shows the depth of our commitment to young Pakistanis, and our intent to invest in Pakistan’s future.”
The US government fully funds these fellowships for the entire period of study. The United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan (USEFP) administers the programme. “The really exciting thing about this group of undergraduates is that so many of these students come from remote or economically disadvantaged areas of Pakistan,” said Rita Akhtar, Executive Director of USEFP.
She said this year’s group included 63 students from Punjab, 35 from Sindh, 16 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 10 from Gilgit-Baltistan, five from Balochistan, three from Azad Jammu and Kashmir, six from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and two from Islamabad. The Global UGRAD programme was launched in the fall of 2010 when the first cohort of around 50 students departed for the United States. More than 650 students have participated in the program to date.

Dr Atta approaches IHC for appointment of Higher Education Commission (HEC) head

Dr Atta approaches IHC for appointment of Higher Education Commission (HEC) head

ISLAMABAD: Renowned educationist, Founder Chairman of Higher Education Commission (HEC) and President Pakistan Academy of Sciences Prof. Dr Atta-ur-Rahman has filed a writ petition in Islamabad High Court for the appointment of permanent and regular chairperson of HEC without any further delay through a transparent and merit based mechanism.
The petition, has been filed through Advocate Umar Hanif Khichi, stating that since the four-year term of former chairperson was ended on August 26, 2013, therefore the office of the chairperson HEC is vacant from that point .It has been explicitly laid down in Section: 8(3) of the HEC Ordinance 2002 that the position of HEC chairman to lie vacant for a maximum of three months and it is mandatory that after 90 days, regular chairperson must be appointed.
The HEC is the Pakistan’s sole higher education regulatory authority responsible for accreditation of new and existing universities, degree awarding institutions, institutes of higher education, and academic programmes, and is also responsible for funding (both development and recurring), planning and development, establishing new universities, recognition and equivalency of degrees (both local and foreign), setting policy guidelines, such as in the appointment and promotion of faculty and professors, research, quality assurance, faculty development programmes, and improving the standard of university education in the country.
The academic circles, vice chancellors, Academic Staff Associations, students and the public, who are the key stakeholders, have already expressed reservations on non-initiation of process for appointment of permanent chairman HEC.
The education experts and stakeholders believe that delay in the appointment was badly damaging the higher education sector as HEC chairman along with the 17-member HEC board called the commission takes the key decisions regarding all policy matters as described in aforementioned paragraphs and in the functioning of national universities and higher education institutions.
The regular HEC chairperson has not been appointed by the government and due to non-appointment of regular chairman, HEC is hampering important decisions, policy matters and its implementation and the higher education sector, comprising over 150 universities, 258 campuses, 1.2 million students, 32,000 faculty members, including over 7600 PhD faculty, and administrative/support staff of over 100,000 people. HEC Ordinance 2002 requires the commission to meet at least twice in a financial year. The commission has not met even once in the last six months due to non-availability of a regular/permanent chairman.
The education experts believe that delay in the appointment was badly damaging the higher education sector as HEC chairman took the key decisions regarding regulation, accreditation, recognition functioning, and funding, of more than 150 national universities and higher education institutions. The non-appointment of regular chairman HEC has also affected day-to-day functioning and affairs of HEC which has been reported in national media from time to time.
As per HEC Ordinance 2002, all the key decisions related to higher education has to be taken by the commission board which is headed by its chairman and the secretariat acts as the executing wing which is responsible for implementation of all the orders, decisions, directives of the board as per Section: 1 and 2 of the HEC Ordinance, 2002.
It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan is the only South Asian country where, its higher education regulatory body, is currently working under acting chairperson instead of permanent head, HEC as compared to Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, whose chairmen hold the relevant and required qualifications.
It was prayed in the petition that the respondents (Federal government) may be directed to appoint a qualified person of international eminence and proven ability who has made significant contribution to higher education as teacher, researcher or administrator, as regular chairperson, HEC for a period of four years, on such terms and conditions as it may determine in a transparent manner, immediately as prescribed under the law.

UN: Asia Pacific AIDS Epidemic at Pivotal Stage

UN: Asia Pacific AIDS Epidemic at Pivotal Stage

HIV-positive Arun, 3, left, HIV positive-Gopika, 2, center, and reportedly HIV-positive Subiksha, 4 months old, lie at the Community Health Education Society orphanage in Chennai, India

HIV-positive Arun, 3, left, HIV positive-Gopika, 2, center, and reportedly HIV-positive Subiksha, 4 months old, lie at the Community Health Education Society orphanage in Chennai, India

BANGKOK — A new UN report warns the HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific is at a pivotal juncture with little progress in reducing new infections. AIDS researchers and activists are calling for more political will by governments to address related issues.

The report, launched by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, says 4.9 million people are living with virus that leads to AIDS across the Asia and Pacific region, largely centered on India, China and Indonesia.

The report, released to coincide with the 11th International Congress on Aids in Asia and Pacific says the rate of new infections has been reduced by more than 25 percent since 2001.

India, Burma, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Thailand have all reported reductions of new HIV infections by more than 50 percent during the past decade. But evidence is emerging of new HIV infections increasing sharply in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines.

Annual new HIV infection rates in the Asia-Pacific region have remained steady at 350,000 a year since 2008.

UNAIDS in the Asia and Pacific Director Steve Kraus says recent gains to reduce infections have stagnated, undermining UN goals of achieving zero new infections and deaths from the virus.

“We have to innovate,” Kraus said. “We have not seen a decline in new infections in our region in the last five years. We need to challenge the status quo because laws, policies and practices too often are barriers. Access to treatment is not available and prevention programs have not been scaled up.”

The number of people in the region accessing medication to keep the virus in check, or antiretroviral treatment, has risen to 1.25 million, just more 50 percent of those infected.

AIDS related deaths have also declined by 18 percent since 2005, to an estimated 270,000 in 2012.

The report says the fastest growing epidemics are among men who have sex with men with 27 million men at risk to the virus. While in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines, rising rates of new infections are linked to injecting drug use populations.

Malu Marin, regional director of the non-government organization Seven Sisters, says issues of discrimination and AIDS-related deaths point to little progress made by policy makers.

“We have made gains in changing risky behaviors that increase vulnerabilities to HIV infection, but we have not made gains in changing the behaviors of policy makers, political leaders and state actors,” Marin said. “Evidence should be our foundation, but 30 years later HIV is still viewed from the lens of dogmatic morality.  We are getting to zero change because of zero access to funding, zero legal reforms and zero political will.”

Fijian President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau says more needs to be done toward reducing stigma and discrimination.

“Programs addressing HIV related stigma and discrimination in the work place, schools and trade based organizations were also reported as contributing to progress towards this target in several countries, though such programs are rarely implemented at a large enough scale,” Nailatikau said.

UN officials see the need for law reforms in areas such as same sex relationships, criminalization of sex workers and restrictions on movement of people based on their HIV status.

African Fruit Bats Could Spread Viruses Across Continent

African Fruit Bats Could Spread Viruses Across Continent

Straw-colored fruit bats rest together at Berlin’s Zoological Garden. (Fritz Geller-Grimm)

Straw-colored fruit bats rest together at Berlin’s Zoological Garden. (Fritz Geller-Grimm)

Straw-colored fruit bats, found across much of Africa, carry two deadly viruses that could spread to people. While scientists knew the bats were carriers, a new study outlines the extent of the infection – a third of the bats are infected with a virus similar to the one which causes rabies, and 42 percent carry henipaviruses, which can cause a fatal disease.

Researchers with the University of Cambridge and the Zoological Society of London looked at blood and tissue samples from more than 2,000 bats in 12 African countries.

They found the animals were largely genetically similar, which means they travel and mix freely across the continent. Senior author James Wood, from the University of Cambridge, says that facilitates the spread of the viruses.

Fruit bats live in groups of more than 100,000 animals, and often congregate near cities. They are frequently hunted for meat, which can spread the pathogens to humans. Henipaviruses can also be spread through contact with bat urine or feces.

Neither disease has been reported in humans in Africa, and while the possibility of infection raises public health concerns, lead author Alison Peel warns that trying to remove bats from cities can actually increase the risk. She says, “The most appropriate response is ongoing studies and public awareness to avoid handling bats, and to wash the wound thoroughly if you are bitten by a bat.”

The new research appears in the journal Nature Communications.

Merck Brings Maternity Program from Poor Nations to US as Deaths Rise

Merck Brings Maternity Program from Poor Nations to US as Deaths Rise

Merck & Co. campus in Linden, New Jersey

Merck & Co. campus in Linden, New Jersey

NEW YORK — Merck & Co. on Tuesday said it is expanding its “Merck for Mothers” program, which aims to reduce pregnancy-related deaths from impoverished countries such as Senegal and Zambia, to the United States — a stark reminder of how far the country lags other wealthy nations on key measures of health.

“As Americans, we simply should not accept that 46 countries have lower rates” of reported maternal mortality, said Merck Chief Executive Ken Frazier. The fact that U.S. pregnancy-related deaths have nearly doubled since 1990 is “appalling” and “something we ought to be ashamed of,” he said.

“Given how sophisticated medical care is in this country, I think most Americans would be astonished” that almost 900 women die each year as a result of pregnancy or childbirth and 50,000 have close calls, Frazier said.

The U.S. drugmaker launched the $500 million global program in 2011 to reduce pregnancy-related deaths, focusing on India, Uganda and other poor countries with only rudimentary healthcare systems.

However, pregnancy-related deaths in the United States have risen from 7.2 per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 17.8 per 100,000 in 2009 (the latest year with reliable data), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate among African-American women is more than triple that of white women: 35.6 versus 11.7 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The deaths include any that occur while a woman is pregnant or within a year after she gives birth, from any cause related to or aggravated by pregnancy.

The leading maternal killers include cardiovascular disease, venous thromboembolism, hemorrhage, hypertension and sepsis, said Dr. Mary D’Alton of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, a specialist in high-risk maternal and fetal medicine.

According to a study presented on Sunday at a meeting of the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths in California. “Women who give birth are usually young and in good health,” said Dr. Afshan Hameed of the University of California, Irvine, who led the research. “So heart disease shouldn’t be the leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths, but it is.”

The reasons for the rise in maternal mortality are unclear. Better reporting is part of it: some states only recently added a “pregnancy” check box to death certificates, said Dr. Edward McCabe, medical director of the March of Dimes.

“We’re getting better data, yes, but what these data are telling us is that we have an unacceptably high rate of pregnancy-related mortality.”

Another likely reason for the increase is the rising prevalence of chronic diseases. Diabetes, chronic heart disease and hypertension — which can occur as a result of obesity — have become more common in women of reproductive age. And for unexplained reasons, the 2009 H1N1 [swine flu] pandemic killed many pregnant women in the United States: although pregnant women account for about 1 percent of the U.S. population, they made up 5 percent of the deaths, the CDC reported.

“Merck for Mothers” will provide $6 million to U.S. programs in 10 states and three cities aimed at decreasing the number of women who die as a result of being pregnant or giving birth. Local programs include Baltimore Healthy Start, which works with neighborhood clinics to improve prenatal and primary care for pregnant women who have high-blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic conditions, and the Maternity Care Coalition in Philadelphia, whose “Safe Start Mobile” sends health advocates into the homes of high-risk pregnant women.

The program will also work through the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to develop standardized protocols for treating the leading causes of maternal death, said Columbia’s D’Alton. Currently, there is significant variation in how obstetricians and hospitals treat potentially-fatal obstetric emergencies such as postpartum hemorrhaging and embolisms.

“There are no national guidelines about what to do in the event of a maternal emergency,” D’Alton said. “Variability is the enemy of safety.”

Merck is collaborating with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to assess whether its maternity programs in Uganda, Zambia and other countries are making a difference, and will publish data on what works and what doesn’t.

Proposed Pollution Rules Rattle US Power Industry (watch video report)

Proposed Pollution Rules Rattle US Power Industry (watch video report)

WASHINGTON — In a march toward the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters in Washington, D.C., a coalition of environment groups and citizen activists rallied for new safeguards on power plants.

“We have to limit the causes of climate change,” said marcher Molly Rauch, “and carbon pollution from power plants is one of the main causes of this problem.”

Inside a packed hearing room, Rauch, who works on air quality issues forMoms Clean Air Force, a national nonprofit, sat at a desk facing EPA officials while holding up a picture of her children.

“This is why I’m here today, and I’m sure you have children who you love in your life,” Rauch said. “If we continue to allow carbon pollution to be spewed into the air unchecked, we will be leaving our children with an uncertain, unhealthy and unsafe future.”

Listening tour

The hearing wrapped up the EPA’s nationwide tour to solicit comments as the agency develops rules to impose stricter clean air standards on coal-fired power plants.

America’s 1,000 coal-fired power plants supply 40 percent of the nation’s electricity and account for one-third of the polluting emissions, which the Obama Climate Action Plan has promised to curtail.

The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, came to  support his home state, which is a big coal producer.

“By now, it is clear that this administration and your agency have declared a war on coal,” McConnell said. “For Kentucky, this means a war on jobs and on our state’s economy.”

Human hardship

Brian Patton, who comes from a long line of Kentucky coal miners and today is president of James River Coal, told EPA officials that his company has laid off 725 workers over the past six months. He fears new rules could bring even greater hardship to an already economically depressed area.

“Understand these are communities of just 1,000, 2,000 people, 3,000 people and when you have that type of an economic impact due to regulations, many of which are regulations that come from Washington, D.C., that have very little understanding of what the outcome is for the local folks,” Patton said, “for folks that get up and go to work every day and what that impact will be for their families in the future, and that’s wrong.”

LISTEN: Proposed Pollution Rules Rattle US Power Industry

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Scott Segal, who directs the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an industry trade group, warned restrictive measures would force plants to close, spur job loss, and cut what is now reliable and affordable energy for millions of people.

“The downside consequences of reduced electric reliability or even increased rates in the United States, have a real human face,” Segal said. “I’m not just talking about folks who mine coal and communities that mine coal or that produce natural gas. I’m talking about individuals living in big cities that can’t heat their home in the winter or that can’t cool their home off sufficiently in the summer. These have real human health impacts.”

Segal added that it would make more sense for public health and the planet for the EPA to enforce energy efficiency and pollution controls already on the books.

“If we impose a unilateral rule, the ironic impact may be to actually increase the carbon burden of this globe by shifting the manufacturing of goods to places that are frankly less energy efficient than the United States,” Segal said.

Regulating carbon

David Doniger, a climate policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the nation’s largest environmental groups, countered that it is the EPA’s job to regulate carbon as a pollutant and to formulate new standards that would shift the United States to a cleaner energy economy.

“No one is proposing standards that would knock out all those power plants,” Doniger said. “We’re talking about a shift from the dirtier ones to the cleaner ones, and from all those fossil fuel-powered ones towards renewable and even nuclear sources of energy.”

Doniger said such a systems-based approach – running the cleaner plants more and the dirtier ones less – could reduce emissions by 25 percent by 2020. Simply put, he says, more efficient plants cost less to run.

“It’s a better deal for the customers of the power companies,” he said. “It’s a better deal for us as citizens, and the ones who might lose are the ones who are invested in some of the oldest and dirtiest plants.”

Doniger said protecting the oldest and dirtiest plants is not the EPA’s mandate – protecting clean air is.

“That’s the only way that we can continue to have the way of life we want without running into the wall on climate change impacts, which in turn will come back and destroy the quality of life we have,” Doniger said.

The EPA is now considering comments from the nationwide hearings and will issue proposed standards in June. The stricter rules will help the Obama Administration meet its pledge to reduce carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 17 percent by the end of the decade.

Rights Group Fears Waterborne Diseases Looming in Harare

Rights Group Fears Waterborne Diseases Looming in Harare

Residences of Mabvuku fetch water from unproteacted sources in Harare, Zimbabwe

Residences of Mabvuku fetch water from unproteacted sources in Harare, Zimbabwe

HARARE — Human Rights Watch is expressing fears that Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, will be hit by another outbreak of waterborne diseases unless authorities improve access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation.  A cholera epidemic in 2008 killed more than 4,000 people.

The New York-based rights group said a looming water and sanitation crisis in Zimbabwe’s capital places millions of residents at risk of waterborne diseases.

In a report entitled “Troubled Water: Burst Pipes, Contaminated Wells, and Open Defecation in Zimbabwe’s Capital”  Human Rights Watch said residents faced an increased threat from cholera, dysentery and similar diseases unless the water and sanitation situation was fixed.

Tiseke Kasambala is the Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“The water and sanitation in Harare is very, very serious.  As you might recall, in 2008, there was a serious cholera crisis that killed thousands of people.  And we are concerned, we recently heard of a typhoid outbreak in Harare.  We are concerned that these outbreaks of diseases are coming about as a result of poor water system throughout Harare, in particular in high density suburbs of the… city,” he said at the launch of the report Tuesday in Harare.

The 60-page report said many Zimbabweans still have little access to potable water and sanitation services, and resort to drinking water from shallow, unprotected wells that are contaminated with sewage, and to defecating outdoors.

According to the United Nations, nearly 70 percent of rural households in Zimbabwe do not have modern sanitation facilities, and about 40 percent of them practice open defecation.

Simbarashe Moyo from the Combined Harare Residents Association attended the launch of the Human Rights Watch report.  He said the issue of archaic sanitation facilities was not only in rural areas.

“From the report we are witnessing ruralization of urban area[s].  When you have unprotected wells and each and every household in Harare, Epworth, Chitungwiza and so forth.  Surely that is an indication that we are now in rural areas, [and that] you are no longer in town,” said Moyo.

Moyo affirmed the finding of Human Rights Watch that contaminated water from sewage was, at times, flowing into wells Harare residents depended on for drinking.

Zimbabwean officials refused to comment on the Human Rights Watch report, saying they have yet to see it.  Human Rights Watch said it invited officials to Tuesday’s news conference but was told the officials couldn’t make it.